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Books for Review should be sent to: Don D'Ammassa, 323 Dodge Street, East Providence, RI 02914


A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick. DAW, 1977

This is a frequently autobiographical novel in which a new drug causes split personalities. The protagonist is a drug user and dealer, whose alternate personality wears an electronic suit that disguises his appearance, and in that form he is a narcotics agent. Not even his bosses know this, however, so one of him is ordered to keep the other of him under surveillance. The personalities do not share information, which leads to some humorous situations, although most of the novel is a serious examination of the causes of drug addiction, the results on the personality and human interactions, and questions about whether drug use should be judged criminal. Although parts are amusing, overall this failed for me. 2/4/23

High Concepts by Bill Pronzini, Stark House, 2023, $15.95, ISBN 979-8-88601-017-6

I have always thought of Bill Pronzini as a mystery author and this collection made me realize that he has produced a great deal of SF as well, although at shorter length. There are more than thirty stories here, four of them original to the collection - and several of them collaborations with Barry Malzberg. They are generally quite short and they span a career of over fifty years and are drawn from all of the major genre magazines and a variety of anthologies. There is humor and suspense and satire and speculation sprinkled through this collection of gems and while this is a kind of sidelight to his central writing focus, it is no less entertaining. I couldn't help wondering what kind of novels he might have written had this been his preferred genre. 2/2/23

The Variable Man by Philip K. Dick, Ace, 1957 

A collection of early stories. “Second Variety” is the most famous, a tale in which killer robots are used to imitate people and infiltrate enemy lines. “Minority Report” is another of his best tales. The title story is a novella about a time traveler whose presence upsets an entire civilization. “Autofac” describes war with automated underground factories which refuse to be shut down. “A World of Talent” is the weakest – an allegory about mutants. These are from the most imaginative and productive period in Dick's career for short fiction. 1/27/23

Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick & Roger Zelazny, Dell, 1976 

A post-apocalyptic novel whose protagonist is an artist who was born without arms or legs and uses an elaborate mechanism to function.  He is sent on a pilgrimage to find the human being who is also the God of Wrath and paint his portrait. Along the way he encounters a large number of humans and mutants. Some of the book is clearly fantasy – talking birds, for example. Much of it consists of theological arguments of no particular interest. I hated this when it first came out, and the years have not improved my opinion. I struggled to finish it. 1/24/23

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick, DAW, 1974 

Although this novel makes use of a generally effective premise – the person who discovers one day that he does not exist and no one remembers him – the narrative begins to lose steam halfway through. The protagonist is a popular singer/entertainer who wakes up in a hotel room in a world that does not recognize him. It’s a dystopian police state, so that’s not a good thing, and he goes the usual route of forged papers and trying to contact people who should know him.  The eventual explanation is new but not very plausible and there are sections of the book that are very talky without much progress. 1/22/23

Our Friends from Frolix 8 by Philip K. Dick, Ace, 1970 

One of my least favorite Dick novels. A relative handful of mutants have somehow seized control of the world and have set up a repressive government. One dissident has flown off to the stars to find an alien race who might help overthrow them. He does, sort of, but Dick never took the story seriously and therefore neither does the reader. The characters act in absurd ways, motives are random and changeable, and it is not even clear if the alien who returns is actually real. The resolution resolves little and we are left unaware of whether the situation has changed for the better, or for the worse. I found little to enjoy in anything Dick wrote from this point on in his career. 1/16/23

The Maze of Death by Philip K. Dick, Paperback Library, 1970 

Fourteen people are lured to a prospective colony world without any explanation of what the colony is supposed to do, and they are immediately cut off from the rest of the universe. This was Dick’s exploration of the nature of God and while there are hints of an interesting situation – God is not supernatural – the potential is completely wasted. The colonists begin to die in mysterious ways. Are they killing each other, or just imagining it? At the end, I really didn’t care what the solution was.

Galactic Pot-Healer by Philip K. Dick, Berkley, 1969 

Dick declined as far as I am concerned with the previous book and never recovered. This one involves a mysterious creature in a far world that recruits humans from all over the galaxy to help it restore a cathedral built by an extinct race. Except there is more going on than it appears. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen, but that never happened. I cared not one whit for any of the characters, or for the outcome of the project. It is self indulgent and quite boring and the next novel would be even worse. 1/12/23

We Can Build You by Philip K. Dick, DAW, 1969 

Aka A Lincoln, Android.  This was the first of what I consider the tedious novels by Dick. There are lots of long philosophical discussions but not much plot. The premise is that a small company develops an android that can pass for human. An Elon Musk type character tries to buy them out so that he can use them to seed fake colonists on other planets and corner the real estate market. There is angst. There is concern about what makes a human being. There are legal battles and personal conflicts. What is missing is entertainment. And an actual plot. The first half is quite promising, but things go bad at midpoint, and the story ends without resolving any of the questions about the use of androids. 1/10/23

Ubik by Philip K. Dick, Dell, 1969 

One of my favorite Dick novels, and a kind of reprise of Eye in the Sky. A group of anti-psi operatives escape an attack on their lives, or do they? The world seems to be changing around them, regressing into the past in bizarre ways. Currency becomes older, cigarettes grow stale, and technology reverts to the 1930s. But not consistently. Something is playing with reality, and they struggle to learn the rules. There is also a spray can of Ubik, which can temporarily reverse the retrogressive progress. Are they alive or dead? Is their boss alive or dead? Although I generally dislike surrealism, this is a notable exception. 1/8/23

Sneak Preview by Robert Bloch, Paperback Library, 1971 

A standard post-apocalyptic satire with thousands of domed cities in North America. One of them is a transformed version of Hollywood. Psychologists effectively rule the world and preside over the question of whether or not to reclaim the countryside. A filmmaker gets bored with space operas and makes a realistic movie, which marks him as a dissident. He somewhat inadvertently becomes the catalyst for a revolution. Not particularly good. Satire has to have a new gimmick or it feels imitative. 1/5/23

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, Signet, 1968 

This was the basis for Bladerunner, the movie, although the story varies considerably. Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter whose job is to hunt down rogue androids and destroy them. They can easily pass for human and sophisticated tests are necessary to tell the difference. The latest batch of escapees provides some unusual challenges. Unlike the movie, we do not feel much sympathy for the androids because they really are monsters, incapable of human empathy. But Deckard fears that his own personality might mean that he could not pass the test as human. And he is strangely drawn to a woman who is clearly an android,. One of the best of his best novels. 1/2/23